Deep-sea mining could begin in international waters as early as next year, yet policymakers are still disputing how to govern such activities. At the end of March representatives from the 36 member states of the council of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the UN-affiliated regulator of deep-sea mining activities in international waters, met for talks in Kingston, Jamaica. One focus of discussion was the ongoing revision of the exploitation regulations, which are still in draft form. Often referred to as the “mining code,” these regulations, once completed, will govern how miners can prospect, explore and exploit mineral resources on the seabed in international waters.

In July 2023, representatives of ISA member states agreed to a road map with a view of finalizing the regulations by July 2025, although some state representatives and civil society members have said they don’t believe this deadline will be met. Canadian deep-sea mining firm The Metals Company (TMC), however, anticipates that the mining regulations will be completed on time. Since last year, TMC representatives have stated that the company intends to submit an application for a mining exploitation license in 2024, right after the next set of ISA meetings that will take place in July, which is at least one year before the regulations might be completed, with a view of starting to mine in 2025. To date, mining exploitation has not started anywhere in the world, so TMC could be the first to begin.


Map of the exploration and reserved areas for polymetallic nodule mining in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ), overlaid with a map of the U.S. To date, the ISA has granted 17 licenses for mining exploration in the CCZ. Image courtesy of Oceans North.


For conservation experts, the prospect of deep-sea mining beginning in the near future is worrying. Many scientists and conservationists argue that deep-sea mining would be an environmental disaster. More than 800 marine science and policy experts signed a statement that calls for a pause on deep-sea mining, saying it would place considerable stress on marine ecosystems that are already threatened by other things like climate change, bottom trawling, and pollution. If deep-sea mining is added to the mix, the statement says, there could be a “loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that would be irreversible on multi-generational timescales.”

During the meetings, there was also a discussion about the environmental NGO Greenpeace’s two-week protest in Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. license area of the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ). Twice during the recent council meeting, Nauru proposed measures that would limit Greenpeace’s ability to protest at sea in the future however, the ISA council rejected both proposals.

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